Teachers: can’t live with em, can’t live without ‘em

Amidst lots of recent drama about teacher evaluations (e.g. New York’s Commissioner of Education has withheld funds to nearly a dozen school districts (including more than 30 high need schools in New York City) that didn’t complete their teacher evaluation agreements with the local teacher unions, TFA founder Wendy Kopp and NEA president Dennis Van Roekel joining hands in a USA Today essay (an essay that has befuddled Diane Ravitch), the Connecticut Education Association releasing a teacher evaluation reform package, New York state’s largest teacher union unveiling a 95-page Teacher Evaluation and Development Handbook, and news from New Jersey that teacher tenure may be ended in the Garden State this year) came a wonderful report by Sam Dillon in the New York TimesIn Washington Large Rewards In Teacher Pay.

Dillon explains how D.C.’s much watched Impact Plus teacher evaluation system (introduced by Michelle Rhee in 2009, but as a collaboration with the Washington Teachers Union) is working. “We want to make great teachers rich,” the district’s chief of human capital, Jason Kamras, tells Dillon.

And, in fact, Dillon offers some brief profiles of teachers – rated “highly effective” by the new rubric – who are getting double-digit percentage pay increases and five-figure annual bonuses. “Lots of teachers leave the profession,” says one of these teachers, who received a 38 percent pay increase in one year, “but this has kept me invested to stay… I know they value me.”

As Dillon writes,

Many districts have tried over the last decade to experiment with performance pay systems but have frequently been thwarted by powerful teachers’ unions that negotiated the traditional pay structures. Those that have implemented merit pay have generally offered bonuses of a few thousand dollars, often as an incentive to work in hard-to-staff schools or to work extra hours to improve students’ scores. Several respected studies have found that such payments have scant effect on student achievement; since most good teachers already work hard, before and after class, there are limits to how much more can be coaxed out of them with financial incentives.

But Washington is the leader among a handful of large cities that are seeking a more fundamental overhaul of teacher pay. Alongside the aggressive new evaluation system that has made the city famous for firing poor-performing teachers — more than 400 over the past two years — is a bonus-and-raise structure aimed at luring talented people to the profession and persuading the most effective to stick with it.

These are significant changes in creating a teacher corps that will begin to make difference. Congratulations to Washington.

– Peter Meyer

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